|My n220 with its default matte display.|
Then I found out about Pixel Qi displays. These are the same displays that were designed for the One Laptop Per Child project, and the designer is also making the small 10-inch displays available to commercial partners or interested hackers. Indoors, they work as a traditional LCD - colour and everything. The cool thing is, direct sunlight doesn't obliterate the image. Instead, it gracefully 'degrades' to a greyscale e-paper-like display, which looks great.
I learned I could shell out $800 for a "Sunbook" made by one of these partners, but the price was a bit steep for the specs, and it was basically just a Samsung n110 fitted with the screen.
|Testing the screen just after replacing it.|
Up until then, I had never modified a laptop more than switching hard drives or RAM. Prising the plastic covers off the body and screen involved many scary snapping noises. Have I broken it?!? I've broken it, haven't I?! The LVDS connector was fiddly, as expected. However, all went well and I've levelled up my Hardware skill.
My New ToySo, how happy am I with the Pixel Qi screen and the Samsung n220? Pretty damn happy! It enables me to just casually grab the netbook and go out for a walk - to one of the local parks, the library, wherever - set up and do some programming. It means that if home is too noisy to get any work done, it doesn't matter as much; the whole world is my office!
There are a few minor quibbles, certainly. There's a tiny bit of light bleed around the edge of the display (when it's dark enough that the light is even necessary, of course!). It doesn't have quite the same colour range or viewing angle that the original samsung LCD had. The netbook itself is from 2010, and while capable, isn't the fastest machine around.
But those things don't really matter. I'm not playing games on this thing, I'm working. I don't mind if code takes a little longer to compile. Most of my time is spent writing code, and that's where this netbook shines. Quite literally, in direct sunlight, because the display becomes easier to read. I can't emphasise enough how good it is to be able to use it outside. Especially since (what with the health problems) I've been super deficient on vitamin D and need to get lots more of that. But also simply because it's nice to get out into the fresh air.
Battery life was already pretty good to begin with at around 5 hours. Now that I've installed xubuntu, the screen and a small SSD, the battery indicator says I have 8 hours of charge to play with! I have never managed to use up all that charge in one go, so I'd say it's perfect.
System of Operations
|Out in the park with the Pixel Qi display.|
The other cool thing about this laptop is that it has a built-in 3G modem. It shows up as an internal USB device, and you can (in theory) configure Network Manager to build a Mobile Broadband connection using it. I haven't got this working yet; I don't think it's Linux' fault, the only SIM card I have is for my phone and perhaps there is some subtle difference I'm missing in the setup details. Perhaps when I'm earning some money from selling software here on the interwebs, I can justify spending for little extras like this. If I get it working, I'll be sure to edit this post.
Alas, I haven't yet pinned down the problem I have with pretty much all linux machines I've ever used:- Suspend and Resume. It's a game of Russian Roulette when suspending this machine, you have no idea whether it'll wake up properly or not. Happily, shutdown and boot are pretty fast, so you don't absolutely need it. Still, it'd be nice to preserve state between walkabouts. Again, I'm doing some research and suspect it's a misbehaving module that's to blame, but the infuriating thing about debugging these problems is that they're intermittent and you never know for sure if you've fixed it or not (spoiler: you haven't).
Update: I've found a workaround for the suspend/resume problem! See my latest post here.
Technical DetailsTo enable the display brightness controls for this laptop in Linux, you need to pass the
acpi_osi=Linux acpi_backlight=vendoroptions to the kernel. You can put this in
/etc/default/grubto get it active permanently. Fn+Up/Down arrows will now control the backlight brightness under X, but it doesn't let you go all the way down to "off", which is what you need to switch the Pixel Qi into pure reflective mode and maybe save a bit of power. To fix this, I found that you can also control what the intel graphics driver is telling the panel for its brightness level. These are two independent brightness controls, so what I've done for now is just bind a key (I used Fn-F5, XF86Launch1) to toggle the brightness completely on or off via the intel driver. Here's the script I used:-
#!/bin/bash # To run this from a keybind without sudo wanting a password, you should make the # file /etc/sudoers.d/qi_backlight with the contents:- # # james ALL=(root)NOPASSWD:/usr/bin/tee /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness # # and make the file 440. Maybe make the file with a ~ on the name first, then # finally mv it into place, or keep a root shell around; sudo likes to fall # over and die if even the slightest thing is out of place. # ---- Must be using correct hardware ---- [[ -f /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/max_brightness ]] || exit MAX_BRIGHTNESS=`cat /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/max_brightness` CURR_BRIGHTNESS=`cat /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness` if (( $CURR_BRIGHTNESS > 0 )); then NEW_BRIGHTNESS=0 else NEW_BRIGHTNESS="$MAX_BRIGHTNESS" fi echo "Changing brightness from $CURR_BRIGHTNESS to $NEW_BRIGHTNESS." echo "$NEW_BRIGHTNESS" | sudo tee /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness
As the comments in the script say, be careful if you're setting this up to let you sudo it without a password! A mangled sudoers file will lock you out of any root activities until you fix it (via booting in single user mode, liveUSB rescue, etc).
I'm really loving this laptop, and can't understand why the makers of Pixel Qi aren't pushing for it to be used in more tech. It's great, but if it's not easy to get a hold of, its popularity will remain limited.
|Yes, there's glare in the photo, it looks much nicer in real life.|